How Saudi Coffee Company is supporting Vision 2030 goals
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From bean to brew: How Saudi Coffee Company is powering the kingdom’s coffee industry

From bean to brew: How Saudi Coffee Company is powering the kingdom’s coffee industry

Saudi Coffee Company‘s chairman Fahad Alnuhait tell us how the company is protecting the legacy of the kingdom’s coffee farmers

Saudi Coffee Company Chairman Fahad Alnuhait photo supllied

Tell us what inspired the launch of the Saudi Coffee Company. How is the company showcasing the traditions linked to coffee and its production in the kingdom?

Around the world, more than 1 billion people start (and continue) their day with coffee. But the brew is much more than a morning eye-opener and social lubricant: it represents the rich cultures of coffee-growing nations, while also being an important means of economic development.

The history of Saudi coffee, or qahwa, provides important context for taking it global. Arabica, the world’s most popular coffee bean, is thought to have originated in Ethiopia in the 13th century and was soon being cultivated in what later become Saudi Arabia.

But while the enjoyment of coffee spread around the world, the Khawlani bean—judged to be Arabica’s very best—could still only be found in the southern Arabian Peninsula, with preparation styles varying.

On the heels of 2022, the official ‘Year of Saudi Coffee’, the centuries-old traditions of small family plantations across the kingdom’s green mountainous regions have come into focus, with Saudi Coffee Company working to bolster the national coffee industry across every aspect of the value chain and share Saudi Arabia’s ancient coffee heritage with the world.

To aid these broader efforts, Saudi Arabia’s PIF launched Saudi Coffee Company in May 2022, as part of its mandate to drive Vision 2030, the kingdom’s blueprint for economic and social transformation.

Read: Sovereign wealth fund PIF launches Saudi Coffee Company

In the process, Saudi Coffee Company aims to increase Saudi coffee output from 300 to 2,500 tons per year, creating jobs at every link in the value chain.

Tell us about the process that Saudi Arabia’s coffee farmers use to create Khawlani coffee.

Saudi Arabia’s way of making coffee often includes open-fire roasting, grinding, and then brewing the beans with cardamom, saffron, and other spices.

This process reaches back to the painstaking practices that more than 2,000 Saudi coffee farmers continue to pass from generation to generation. Khawlani coffee isn’t just a low-acidity, complex fruit-and-chocolate toned, aromatic drink – it’s part of our national identity.

Named for the Khawlan tribe who have cultivated the bean for the past 300 years, notably in the mountainous southwestern region of Jazan, Khawlani cultivation is currently being assessed for UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity protection list.

Saudi coffee farming begins with terracing, a process that reduces erosion and helps the soil hold water, thus boosting productivity. Seeds are hand-prepared, sown in a mud mix, then transferred to rows, with plants ready to harvest in three-five years. The resulting “cherries,” which mature from green to red, are picked with a twisting hand motion, a manual method that helps branches thrive for longer.

Coffee farming in Saudi Arabia is a community enterprise involving both men and women.

When harvesting, men often wear the skirt-like wizrah, along with a curved dagger and flower or herb-based head wreath, as they sing traditional songs and collect the cherries into pouches.

The fruit is then dried on stone rooftops, after which the beans are peeled, roasted, and ground.

While this coffee has traditionally been sold from farmers’ homes or at regional coffee festivals, Saudi Coffee Company’s aim is to take this local consumption to the national and global markets.

In doing so, it will transform Saudi Arabia from being the world’s 18th-largest importer of coffee to a major global exporter of the kingdom’s unique coffee.


What are some of the challenges the coffee farmers face?

Coffee farming in Saudi Arabia is not without the same obstacles facing coffee-growers everywhere, with severe implications for both economies and consumers.

Climate change is a major threat to the industry, with rising temperatures, drought and heavier rains all negatively affecting soil texture and pH.

Studies also suggest that an increase in CO2 and temperature could stoke a rise in agricultural pests and diseases, such as the rust fungus that has repeatedly devastated Central America’s coffee industry in the past 10 years.

Groundwater depletion is another issue, especially in Saudi Arabia, which has traditionally relied on desalinated seawater or deep aquifers and now uses Big Data analytics to monitor water use.

Continued shortages could reduce the planet’s coffee-suitable land by 50 per cent in just 30 years.

Not surprising, considering that producing a single cup of coffee takes an astonishing 140 litres of water.

How is Saudi Coffee Company supporting these farmers?

While traditional methods reflect time-honored resource management—such as Khawlani farmers’ practice of collecting a three-month supply of rainwater — it makes sense to introduce innovation that can reinforce the old ways.

That’s why we are investing at every stage of coffee production, beginning with raising Saudi Arabia’s agricultural capacity and harvesting capabilities, but also including local, affordable roasting and packaging facilities.

Saudi Coffee Company also has plans for a dedicated academy to train and upskill farmers and entrepreneurs at several locations around the kingdom in how to grow their businesses.

This transfer of technology and knowledge also ties into national workforce development goals, in this case enhancing skills that produce, promote, and market the nation’s signature drink.

Public and private sector engagement are also key. For example, the energy company Aramco recently started a corporate citizenship campaign in Jazan that includes advanced irrigation techniques that conserve up to 80 per cent of water.

Widespread planting of new trees, both coffee and other, can also increase yields while improving wider farming conditions.

That’s why Jazan, which already boasts some of the oldest in the world, is working to increase its number of coffee trees from 171,000 to 1 million by 2030.

With coffee demand rising everywhere, increasing the Saudi crop by 70 percent can help ensure that everyone can sustainably enjoy coffee.

To help meet this ambitious target, Saudi Coffee Company is investing $320m (SR1.2bn) over 10 years to develop the sector at every stage.

Efforts like these can help combat projections about climate change-induced production losses while also protecting the income stability of the small farmers that produce 80 percent of the world’s coffee.

Why is coffee central to the kingdom’s social, economic and cultural values?

Saudi Coffee Company courtesy twitter @SaudiCoffeeCo
Photo courtesy Saudi Coffee Company/ Twitter

Strengthening our coffee culture is important as Saudi Arabia continues to open up to the world.

International coffee chains, for example, have significantly contributed to social freedoms, as Saudi restaurants no longer seat families and single men separately.

Adding local coffee beans to this mix not only expands the world’s range of offerings, it also can increase agro-tourism, another industry that Saudi Arabia wholeheartedly welcomes and is working to expand.

With Saudi Coffee Company at the helm of the national ecosystem, coffee is no longer just Arabica, but also Saudi.

The local Khawlani bean is now a major path to a more diverse economy and a more sustainable industry with less imports, more jobs, and better business development.

As a proud symbol of hospitality, heritage, and warmth, this cup of Saudi culture can now be shared with the world.

Also read: Saudi’s PIF partners with AeroFarms to build indoor vertical farms across MENA

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